Cole Strange

Latest On Patriots G Cole Strange’s Knee Injury

We heard last month that Cole Strange was expected to miss the start of the 2024 campaign as he recovered from a knee injury. We’ve now got more details on the injury that ended the former first-round pick’s 2023 campaign. ESPN’s Mike Reiss writes that Strange suffered a torn patellar tendon in his left knee.

[RELATED: Patriots G Cole Strange Could Miss Start Of 2024 Season]

This helps provide some context to head coach Jerod Mayo‘s “month-to-month” comment from May. As Reiss notes, Mayo suffered the same injury towards the end of his playing career, so the coach’s estimated timeline is based on first-hand experience.

The Patriots raised some eyebrows when they selected the former UT-Chattanooga standout in the first round of the 2022 draft. While Strange managed to start all 17 of his appearances as a rookie, his Pro Football Focus grade still only ranked 61st among qualifying guards. He did take a slight step forward in 2023; in his 10 games, Strange was slotted in as the 26-best offensive guard in the NFL.

The Patriots were surely counting on Strange to take another step forward during his third year in the league, but his season debut will surely be delayed. Reiss notes that 2023 fourth-round pick Sidy Sow got the majority of the reps at left guard during spring practices. Sow started 13 games on the opposite side of the line as a rookie. Fortunately, the second-year player has plenty of experience playing on the left side of the line thanks to his time in college, and the lineman told Reiss that he’s appreciated his growing chemistry with expected starting LT Chukwuma Okorafor.

Patriots G Cole Strange Could Miss Start Of 2024 Season

Cole Strange saw his second season with the Patriots come to an abrupt end in December. The knee injury which forced him to end the campaign on injured reserve is threatening to keep him sidelined into the fall.

New England’s starting left guard is expected to miss the beginning of the 2024 campaign, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. He adds Strange could be unavailable until the middle of the coming season, something which would deal a considerable blow to the team’s offensive front. The 2022 first-rounder has started all 27 of his appearances to date.

“He’s more of a, let’s say, week-by-week or you can go month-by-month if you want to,” head coach Jerod Mayo said when speaking about Strange’s health status (via Rapoport). “But he is working hard, he is doing his rehab. Here every day. He is in the meeting room, so I am happy where he is.”

Eyebrows were raised when the Patriots selected Strange on Day 1, as many expected him to be a mid-round prospect. His rookie season produced a PFF grade of only 54.6, which ranked 61st amongst qualifying guards. The UT-Chattanooga product took a step forward in his 10-game follow-up season, though. Strange earned a 64.6 mark, slotting him 26th at his position.

The Patriots – a team which is set to use free agent addition Chukwuma Okorafor on the blindside after he previously worked at right tackle during his Steelers tenure – will have a notably different left side of the line if Strange is unable to start the season. As Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald notes, 2023 fourth-rounder Sidy Sow took first-team left guard reps when the team’s OTAs began yesterday. The 25-year-old Canadian logged 13 starts as a rookie, all of which came at right guard. He would thus represent one of the top options to replace Strange this fall if he is unable to suit up.

Patriots Place G Cole Strange On IR

The Patriots bad season got worse this weekend when they saw starting offensive guard Cole Strange carted off the field yesterday. After the knee injury forced him to leave the game, Strange has been placed on injured reserve, per a team announcement.

In his second NFL season out of Chattanooga, the former first-round pick has fared much better against his professional competition this year. After grading out as the 61st best guard in the league as a rookie, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Strange currently ranks as the 28th best guard this season.

Unfortunately, injuries have kept him from really blossoming in 2023. After missing the team’s season-opener, Strange came back for two games before being forced to leave the Patriots’ Week 3 contest early. He would be forced to sit out for three games before coming back to make eight straight starts up until this most recent injury.

Atonio Mafi, the fifth-round rookie out of UCLA started in place of Strange in the previous four games he’d missed and filled in for Strange when he left the game yesterday. With Strange out for the rest of the year, Mafi will be starting three more games to end his rookie campaign.

New England also added another body to the quarterbacks room today. Joining Bailey Zappe and Mac Jones at the position will be Nathan Rourke. Rourke was waived by the Jaguars this weekend to make room for return specialist Jamal Agnew to come off IR and found himself getting claimed off the waiver wire by the Patriots. The former CFL quarterback hasn’t made an NFL appearance, but with the season all but decided for New England, the Patriots may decide to see just what they have in Rourke.

OL Notes: Vikings, Bengals, Pats, Nijman

Garrett Bradbury suffered a back injury last season, and the Vikings center saw his absence extended after he aggravated the malady in a car accident. Bradbury missed the Vikings’ final five regular-season games but returned for the team’s wild-card loss. The Vikings circled back to the former first-round pick in March, re-signing him to a three-year, $15.75MM deal. That contract becomes a pay-as-you go accord after 2023, and Bradbury has run into familiar trouble. The Vikings ruled out the fifth-year center for their Thursday-night game in Philadelphia due to a back injury.

We felt positive about him, and he’s done everything and had no issues whatsoever through a pretty physical training camp for us to feel really good about it,” Kevin O’Connell said (via ESPN’s Kevin Seifert) of Bradbury’s back issue. “It’s just how this game goes sometimes, and he’s a tough guy, big part of the interior of our offensive line and we’ll hope to get him back as soon as we can.”

Austin Schlottmann, who returned last week after a broken leg ended his 2022 season, is set to start at center against the Eagles. Here is the latest from the O-line landscape:

  • The Bengals completed an unexpected transaction this week, releasing La’el Collins from the reserve/PUP list. The team had given Collins a three-year, $21MM deal to step in at right tackle, which he did for 15 games. But ACL and MCL tears ended his 2022 season in Week 16 and prevented him from starting this season on time. The Bengals have Jonah Williams at right tackle opposite big-ticket UFA addition Orlando Brown Jr., but Jackson Carman — who replaced Williams at LT in the playoffs last season — is not the top backup any longer. D’Ante Smith, a 2021 fourth-round pick, is positioned as Cincinnati’s swing tackle now, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Carman has started two playoff games but lost three position battles in his three training camps. Viewed as a project coming out of East Carolina, Smith has played 56 career offensive snaps.
  • Reliability questions surrounded the Patriots‘ offensive line, and the team responded accordingly when setting its 53-man roster. Before Riley Reiff ended up on IR, the Patriots submitted an initial 53 with 11 O-linemen. No other team’s first 53 included that many, as Mike Reiss of ESPN.com observes. Only seven teams kept 10 blockers, though that is where New England’s contingent stands after the Reiff move. The Pats needed to use this depth early. Calvin Anderson, who came off the Pats’ reserve/non-football illness list late in the preseason, started at right tackle in Week 1. Guards Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu were out, moving fourth- and fifth-round rookies — Sidy Sow, Atonio Mafi — into the lineup. Onwenu and Strange have each logged two limited practices this week, though both Sow and left tackle Trent Brown suffered concussions in the opener, leaving their Week 2 statuses in doubt.
  • The Commanders, Packers and Vikings each restructured an O-line deal recently. Washington created $6MM in cap space by moving $7.5MM of Charles Leno‘s base salary into a signing bonus and adding three void years, per the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala. Green Bay topped that by adding four void years to Yosh Nijman‘s deal, creating $2.54MM in cap space, ESPN’s Field Yates tweets. This proves interesting due to Nijman being on a second-round RFA tender; he is due to be a 2024 free agent. Minnesota added $9.99MM in space by restructuring Brian O’Neill‘s contract, per Yates.

Patriots, G Cole Strange Agree To Deal

One of two first-rounders who had not signed their rookie contracts, Cole Strange is set to make his Patriots employment official. The rookie guard is expected to sign his deal Wednesday, InsidetheBirds.com’s Adam Caplan tweets.

Strange’s signing will leave Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett as the league’s lone unsigned first-rounder. Strange’s four-year deal will include a fifth-year option and, based on the final three first-rounders’ contractual terms, be fully guaranteed.

The Patriots drafted Strange 29th overall, and although the Tennessee-Chattanooga lineman was not expected to go in Round 1, this year’s Nos. 30-32 picks — George Karlaftis, Daxton Hill and Lewis Cine — were given fully guaranteed contracts. This has marked a progression for players chosen late in the first round. When the 2011 CBA began this era of rookie deals, late-first-round picks’ contracts were not fully guaranteed.

Strange is expected to be an immediate starter for the Pats, who saw 2021 guard starters Shaq Mason and Ted Karras depart. The Pats traded Mason to the Buccaneers for a fifth-round pick, doing so after Karras defected to the Bengals in free agency. Strange is expected to join Michael Onwenu as New England’s first-string guards.

Using his COVID-19-created additional eligibility year, Strange ended up a five-year starter for the Mocs. The 24-year-old blocker spent six years at the Division I-FCS program, redshirting in 2016. Although, the pandemic drastically altered the FCS squads’ schedules in 2020. Chattanooga played five games as part of its 2020 campaign. Strange returned in 2021 to start nine games at left guard, his primary college spot, and two at left tackle.

Trent Brown At LT, Isaiah Wynn At RT, During Patriots’ Minicamp; Latest On Cole Strange

Could Isaiah Wynn‘s absence from Patriots OTAs, which compelled New England to deploy Trent Brown at left tackle in Wynn’s stead, have precipitated a permanent shakeup? Per Jeff Howe of The Athletic (subscription required), Wynn suited up at right tackle during mandatory minicamp last week, while Brown remained at left tackle.

Howe reminds us that, at the Patriots’ 2018 minicamp — during Brown’s first stint in Foxborough — Brown worked at LT while Wynn lined up at RT. The two players switched roles for that year’s training camp, but Wynn suffered an Achilles tear during a preseason game several weeks later, and he missed the entire season as a result. Following Wynn’s injury, Brown returned to left tackle and parlayed a strong showing at the position into a lucrative free agent contract with the Raiders the following offseason.

Still, there is precedent for the team to use Brown and Wynn at LT and RT, respectively, before training camp begins, only to have them flip-flop when the serious work gets underway in late July. On the other hand, 2018 was Wynn’s rookie season, so it could be that head coach Bill Belichick was simply easing him into the professional ranks during minicamp that year.

So there is no way of knowing what Belichick is currently envisioning with respect to his OL bookends, though he downplayed the significance of last week’s minicamp alignment. When asked about Wynn’s RT time, Belichick said it is in keeping with the team’s modus operandi for the last 20 years, thereby suggesting that he is merely trying to create positional flexibility (via Andy Hart of WEEI.com).

Wynn, who is entering a platform year and whose earning power could be seriously undermined if he were to remain at right tackle, is saying the right things at this point. “Do I like the change? It’s wherever they need me, player,” he said. When asked about his contract status, he replied, “I ain’t worried about no contract right now. I’m focused on being the best player I can be for the team so we can move forward to the season. … That’ll come when it comes.”

Another factor to consider is that Brown, not Wynn, has been the one developing chemistry with rookie first-rounder Cole Strange, the team’s presumptive LG. Although many pundits believed New England was reaching when it made Strange the No. 29 overall pick of this year’s draft, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com said the Chattanooga product looks like a plug-and-play starter, so the reps shared by him and whomever lines up to his left are especially meaningful.

On a related note, Strange is just one of two 2022 first-rounders who have yet to sign their rookie deals (Steelers QB Kenny Pickett is the other). As Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes, there are a few reasons for that. One, the Pats simply do not have enough cap space at the moment, which is a matter that can easily be resolved. Two, it could be that Strange is angling for larger roster bonuses and lower base salaries over the life of his rookie deal, just so he can get his money more quickly every year. And finally, while the top 28 picks of the 2021 draft received fully-guaranteed contracts, last year’s No. 29 selection, Eric Stokes, received a 96% guarantee for the fourth and final year of his rookie accord. Since Strange is this year’s No. 29 pick, perhaps a modicum of guaranteed money is at issue between player and team.

However, even the 30th-32nd picks in this year’s draft class received a 100% guarantee, so Strange has some leverage here if that really is one of the reasons for the delay.